A Manifesto for Laogs – Live Action Online Games

A Manifesto for Laogs – Live Action Online Games

Laog is short for live action online game – and that says it all, doesn’t it? We can larp – live action role-playing – when being behind our video camera. We can play with people all around the globe and be 100% in-character. We can make use of meta techniques, be 360 degrees in or break out of character for scene setting on intervals.

Laog is a design realm we want to explore and define it by making and playing games in it.

This document is about what we learnt, what we imagine and what we recommend.

[Disclaimer: we are not bound to the term laog – ‘digital larp’ or ‘online larp’ work just as well. What speaks for laog: it’s not a derivative from other play forms.]

Screenshot by Gerrit Reininghaus from a game session of The Election of the Wine Queen.

Screenshot by Gerrit Reininghaus from a game session of The Election of the Wine Queen. The game is published in Codex Sunlight, to be found on DriveThruRPG soon. People visible have given permission of this screenshot’s use. Used with permission by the author.

Playing Online

Playing online provides us with some extra tools, demands good care and imposes certain constraints.

More Tools

Having a chat window for everybody in a game defined as out of character is an opportunity for many aspects: meta techniques, safety check-ins, technical and rules questions etc.

That there is a physical distance between players allows us under certain circumstances to feel safer. The door which is always open is just a click away. You can return home a second after you decide to go. Private chats between players can be an additional and non-intrusive way to check-in, to continue debrief, to work through the experience.

Good Care

The Leave Call Button Is Always Available

Safety tools are important for laogs as they are for larps or online tabletop RPGs. Laogs shall not be run without everybody willing to take care for each other. People are always more important than the game. The “Leave Call” button is always available. We don’t play laogs with people who don’t respect others boundaries, who can’t accept diversity and that people are different. laogs shall be as inclusive as possible.

Safety Tools

The X card is an important tool and an easy to grasp safety technique. For every laog, provide a way to include the X card or a similarly efficient safety technique. In video calls the X card can easily be tapped by typing an X into the chat window and if necessary name the content you like to X card. Nicely, some chat tools (including Google Hangouts Video chat sidebar allow for anonymous posting. To increase visibility and that people pay attention to the use of an X card you can additionally cross your arms while being on camera or verbally call for the X card.

The Safety of Your Space

Not part of the game but part of your responsibility as a laog player is taking care for the people in your surrounding being affected by the game. Have you informed everybody what you are planning to do and that nobody needs to be worried? Does somebody need to sleep or could otherwise be negatively affected by your play?

De-role and Debrief

Good aftercare is an important part of every laog. Nobody has to participate in a debrief. No technique fits all laogs. Every laog shall carefully consider what structure and method they want to follow. It has to be adequate to the degree of intensity and sufficient time should always be made available.

Constraints

Set-up

Online play brings with it some hurdles.

It is good practice to check your technical set-up before the game. Your microphone and webcam should be ready to go and your internet connection needs to be sufficiently fast and stable.

Surroundings

Will your surroundings be suitable for the play time – think of background noises, phone calls, light. Check in with other players what constraints you have for play and if it’s alright for them.

No Physical Space

The virtual room we create in a laog is lacking many features a physical space can provide. A laog takes these constraints into consideration in its design (and might find interesting ways to circumvent the shortcomings). One on one discussions are more difficult to be organised. Body language is far more limited and players should find suitable ways in written format (e.g. emojis) or with mimic to alleviate communication to physical level. Physical interaction like touching, the sheer presence of another human being need less intuitive re-interpretations.

Screenshot by Gerrit Reininghaus from a game session of the LAOG adaption of ‘End Game’.

Screenshot by Gerrit Reininghaus from a game session of the LAOG adaption of ‘End Game’. End Game is by David Hertz, published by Glass Free Games. People visible have given permission of this screenshot’s use. Used with permission by the author.

Playing Live

This section is looking on laogs from the perspective of online tabletop roleplayers.

Playing 100% in-character will sound frightening to some – even very experienced online RPG players. That is totally alright and indeed it is for some a great experience, for some an interesting experience and for others not what they are looking for.

Being in Character – All the Time

When you play a laog you should always be in character when your webcam is on. That means every motion of your head, how close you are to the camera, the tone of your voice, your eyes rolling, your tongue snarling is in-character. There will be exceptions as there are and shall always be exceptions from aesthetic rules everywhere in the world.

When you look at other player characters find an element in their habits or appearance which lets you lock your imagination of the character they incorporate. Such an anchor makes it easier for you to stay in character while interacting with others.

Switch your camera off any time you need a moment out of character.

Online Immersion Is Possible

How immersive a laog experience is depends more on the combination of the laog, the other players and you than on the format. If all three are a good fit, you probably will have a good time in that regard.

Being for a longer time fully in character can be intense. Incorporating somebody or something else with your full body means that you might have a full body experience. Listen to your body and mind accordingly in terms of safety but also in terms of getting the full experience of the laog. Continue listening to your body and mind when the laog is over and the cameras are off. The immersive part of a laog might flow through you again when you allow yourself to return to the game.

Then again, don’t worry too much about immersion. No matter if you are larping, playing tabletop games, story gaming or however you call what you are doing, you shouldn’t get lost in your character. There are safety techniques, meta techniques, time limits, story considerations and many other things which will float through your mind while you do this thing called roleplaying. And that’s right as it is.

We Are Larping Online

Some people raise the question if a laog is essentially a larp. The answer is: yes and no and however you like to see it. Larp is a different kind of thing and the same. If you haven’t larped so far, you should try it. There is boffer larp, there is chamber larp, there are jeep forms, Dogmas, black boxes, American Freeform and so many other forms of larps out there. There will be something in it for you.

A laog is different to a good degree. We get the best of playing online in our own spaces and feeling play in every dimension without interruption. So in many aspects a laog will cause the same sensation than a larp.

Practical Lessons

We still don’t have enough experience to give you the full list of tools you need. It’s up to you and me and everybody else who is interested in this design and play space to make laogs better.

For your use, here is a template you can copy to facilitate your laogs (or other roleplaying games) which includes some of the elements described in more detail below:

https://tinyurl.com/OnlineGamingTemplate

Responsibility Roles

From the laog session of Winterhorn (by Jason Morningstar) I developed this set of responsibility roles. Splitting these rules among several people shall make the game smoother and relieve the workload from the facilitator’s shoulders.

Responsibilities

One person can have multiple roles, but it’s better to distribute them.

  • Orientation: Welcoming and introduction, character assignment moderator
  • Time: Setting the timer, reminding in chat when time is getting short
  • Tech Help: Help desk for technical difficulties
  • Rules: Help desk for rules clarifications
  • Debrief: Moderator for the debrief

Before you start playing, discuss which player is taking over which role and what that contains for your game. It’s alright if one person has several roles as long as everybody feels comfortable with that.

Archetypical Structure

Sitting together in front of a computer screen is an advantage when it comes to presenting and sharing a structure for your session. Exemplary, this structure for the laog version of Susanne Vejdemo’s So Mom I made This Sex Tape is presented.

  • Welcome players, check technical set-up with all, distribute responsibilities (10 minutes)
  • Read the Background and Play sections out loud, including the relevant characters (10 minutes)
  • Players choose a character and re-read it (5 minutes)
  • Decide on why the characters have a video call together (postponed birthday chat, one person returning from a journey,…) , etc. (3 minutes)
  • Get accommodated with the meta-technique spreadsheet (3 minutes)
  • Each player presents their character in 30 seconds, use timer (3 minutes)
  • Take a short break before the in-character part of the game begins. (5 minutes)
  • Start a 25-minute timer and begin playing, add 5 minutes for every player above 3
  • When the timer rings the final scene begins (5 minutes)
  • Debrief (15 minutes)

Adapt the structure for the purpose of your game. Never forget to include breaks if you player longer games.

Tools for Breaking the Virtual Wall

The following tools are just examples and wait for you to be improved, thrown out of the basket or extended.

A pretty effective technique in laogs is to make use of the physical boundary – and break through it. One example of how this can be done is to touch somebody on the screen. Please ask the other players if they feel comfortable with using this technique.

Purposefully establishing eye contact is another very effective measure to drastically reduce the felt distance between players in an online game.

Asking players to turn their volume down so much until they can only hear you when they get close to their speakers can create the idea as if you live in their sound system.

Offer several video rooms between players can switch to replicate having separate rooms between to move. In the laog version of End Game by Glass Free Games, one of the rooms represents the video game the players play together.

De-role and debrief

De-roleing is about leaving your character behind. An efficient way to do that is leaving the video call altogether. However, you might want to still use it for the debrief. So if that is the case, you can at least switch the camera off for as long as you need. Stretch your muscles after sitting for quite a while in a chair and staring at a screen. Leave the room in which you played and leave your character outside. Change a piece of clothing (a hat, scarf etc.) before you return to the video.

A good debrief can have many forms. The following set-up has been used in the laog version of So Mom I Made This Sex Tape:

When the game is over, turn your camera and mic off. Earliest after 30 seconds you can switch your cameras back on. But take your time if you need more. Don’t immediately start talking about the game. Free yourself from the character you played, possibly by shortly leaving the room you played in or by changing something of you or the environment. Stretch your muscles after all this time sitting and staring at a screen.

When everybody is back with cameras on the moderator starts the debrief by thanking everybody who participated.

Who doesn’t want to be part of it, can leave, no questions asked.

Go around the table for what impressions you had:

  1. What you enjoyed, which parts were challenging for you. Stay with you if possible.
  2. In a second round you have the opportunity to praise other players, the game designer or whatever comes to your mind.

The debrief will last a maximum of 15 minutes.

The facilitator can ask for feedback if they want. They can also hand that over to somebody else. Feedback can then be given in private channels. If there is a lesson to be learnt for all players, the facilitator / feedback moderator will write to all players. Please leave some time between the game and the feedback lesson.

Workshopping

Many roleplaying games nowadays follow the good tradition of doing some exercise of the special situations we want to bring each other in, in-game. For example, practicing screaming at each other is worth an exercise for safety reasons, to learn what you can do and that you already get an idea what could happen in the game.

Workshopping can highly alleviate your laog experience. Give it a try. And surprise us with your design ideas about workshops.

Laogs in Action

A playlist of recorded live action online games can be found here:

End Game

This is a laog – by Gerrit Reininghaus adapting a larp by David Hertz (Glass Free Games).

End Game is a game about a team of eSport professionals who just got relegated from the professional league and need to make a tough decision if they feel ready to continue on amateur level without payment etc. It’s the one hour before the end of their time as professional gamers. They meet their fans, journalists, but are mainly just among themselves to find out why they have been a team.

The special part about this laog is that it is the first laog designed for two separate video rooms between which the players / characters can move freely while the game is running.

Here is the link to the template with everything you need for play:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1QU-W5mJ1LcPBXMckyVrTr4yMZZPVLkRQNr-k26Y4wgM/edit

Actual Play (Game Room)

Actual Play (Social Room)

So Mom I Made This Sex Tape

Author of the original larp: Susanne Vejdemo

Published in the #Feminism anthology

laog version by Gerrit Reininghaus

Link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1OVTyOz7rJ2I1YHvcGZEflKT7-295B-dtZl1wy5QrwOE/edit#gid=175294368

Actual Play Video

What Happens

In the original larp version we play a family meeting of three to five women. The Daughter has made a sex tape which her partner had sent without consent to an alternative porn festival. The festival likes it. The family members represent different generations of feminism with differents stands on sex and pornography. In the laog version the family meeting happens online.

Winterhorn

Author of the original larp: Jason Morningstar

Published by Bully Puplit Games

laog version by Gerrit Reininghaus

Link: please request personally from Gerrit

Actual Play Video

What Happens

The original Winterhorn larp is about a meeting of government officials and agents. They develop a strategy how to destroy a group of political activists. The game represents three separate meetings. Between meetings the results of the actions taken are evaluated through mechanics.

In the laog version of this game, the meeting happens online. So good to have government institutions to offer home office opportunities – that is very important for example for young families. So we play three online video chats. Everything in the surrounding of the officers and also the online tools (Google Drawings, Spreadsheets) are part of the game.

ViewScream

Author: Raphael Chandler

Published by Neoplastic Press

considers itself as a varp – a video augmented role-playing game

Link: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/113064/ViewScream

Actual Play Video

What Happens

Depending on the scenario you play a group of people on a spaceship which is destined to be destroyed. They can only communicate through the ship’s intercom, i.e. through a video chat. Conflict arises from exchanging problems and potential solutions. But there are not enough working solutions for all the problems around.

The Election of the Wine Queen

Author of the laog: Gerrit Reininghaus

Authors of original larp: Silvia Ochlast, Björn Butzen

Link to the larp: http://minilarp.de/wordpress/?page_id=330

Link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=10B6ZuDlNP_-ZEVOhLvdt4s6aFOnF9T7m

A refined, edited and improved version is included in the Gauntlet’s Codex Sunlight. Soon to be found on DrivethruRPG.

The Election of the Wine Queen is a digital black box laog about a wine queen competition in which the players play promising candidates and the jury of such a traditional rural event. Who will be the next wine queen representing the region for year on national fairs? How will this year’s competition change the village to the better – or worse?

As a metatechique the laog uses singing: a drinking song can be brought into any scene any time to violently break the mood.

Players are also supposed to drink wine (or water in replacement) while playing.

The laog version makes heavy use of what the author calls digital black box scenes: Whoever is not in the scene switches their camera and mic off. Play is organized in Acts. Between Acts, players go out of character to plan for scenes and who is in there for the next Act.

Actual Plays Videos

German:

Auszug aus dem Feenwald [German only]

This is a German laog written as a stretch goal for the #RollInclusive Kickstarter by Feder & Schwert. It will be published as an essay end of 2019.

Auszug aus dem Feenwald is a ‘play to cheer’ game in which the ethereal beings of a magic forest meet to discuss the future of the forest. Players play the wind, the plants, the animals and the faerie. Each player has a unique setup how they communicate. In practice, this means restricting access to voice, view and being seen.

Makeup Moments

This is a laog designed for The Gauntlet’s Codex,  monthly zine, and will be published in Codex Glamour 2 in June 2019. It’s about putting makeup on together before going out. The camera is used as a mirror while the other players can watch these intimate moments.

Last Words

This laog is specifically designed to cater for two goals:

  • Create something to watch for an audience, with the audience having more insights than every single player.
  • Use asymmetric communication as a central game element.

In Last Words, three players incorporate the Living, the Deceased and the Angel. The Deceased and the Living have unresolved business with each other of which the Living talks about at the Deceased’s grave. The Deceased can hear the Living, but not reverse. The Angel can hear the Deceased but not the Living. In the next phase of the game, the Angel communicates with the Living through a shared online drawing tool representing a dream.

Last Words will be published in The Gauntlet’s Codex Melancholy.

Actual Play of a Play-test

Other laogs

Monster Squad by Thomas McGrenery (as made for the RPG Geek One Sheet Contest 2015)

They’re Onto Me by Banana Chan as made for the Golden Cobra Award 2016. (www.goldencobra.org/pdf/2016/TheyreOntoMe_Chan.pdf)

Digital Larps by The Geek Initiative

This is the best place to learn more about Tara M Clapper and her team’s initiative to make digital larps / laogs more popular:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/tgilarps/

This manifesto was originally published at https://tinyurl.com/laogmanifesto and is published here with the authors permission.

Cover photo: Screenshot by Gerrit Reininghaus from a game session of Society of Vegan Sorcerers. The game is by Wendy Gorman and can be found in Codex Yellow which can be found on DriveThruRPG. People visible have given permission of this screenshot’s use. Used with permission by the author.

Authors

Gerrit Reininghaus
Gerrit Reininghaus is a live action designer from Germany with strong links to Guatemala. His works tackle opportunities and challenges of online live action play. He is also writing story games to organize his thoughts and experiences: from tuk tuk racing to the joy of putting on makeup together.
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